One of the shortest and strongest meteor showers of the year will streak across the night sky this weekend, marking the first major meteor shower of 2020. The Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to peak Friday night into Saturday morning.
What are the Quadrantids?
The Quadrantid meteor shower occurs every year during early January, as leftover comet particles and broken asteroid pieces come around the sun and emit a dusty trail for the Earth to pass through. According to NASA, it is considered to be one of the best annual meteor showers.
Most meteor showers originate from comets, but the Quadrantids come from an asteroid: Asteroid 2003 EH1. The Quadrantids were first observed in 1825, but the asteroid wasn’t discovered until March 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS).
The Quadrantids’ radiant — the point in the sky where they appear to come from — is a constellation called “Quadrans Muralis” that no longer exists. The constellation was created in 1795, but taken off the list of recognized modern constellations in 1922. The new radiant point is considered to be the constellation Bootes, near the Big Dipper.
Quadrantids are known for their bright “fireball” meteors. Fireballs are large explosions of light and color, lasting longer than a typical meteor streak. They are created from larger particles of material and are brighter than average meteors.
When and where to watch the Quadrantids
While most meteor showers peak for a few days, making sightings fairly easy, the Quadrantids peak for just around 6 hours, according to the American Meteor Society. During its peak, between 60 to 200 meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions.
Unlike the recent “ring of fire” solar eclipse, the Quadrantids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the night and early morning hours. They aren’t as popular as the Perseids in August or the Geminids in December, but they are extremely intense.
In order to view a meteor shower, escape the bright lights of your city and go to a location with a clear view of the night sky. Face northeast, lie flat on your back and look up, allowing your eyes about thirty minutes to adjust to the darkness. The meteor shower should begin around 3:00 a.m. EST.